WhatsApp security and role of metadata in preserving privacy

Rastogi, Nidhi
Hendler, James A.
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Rastogi, Nidhi, and James Hendler. "WhatsApp security and role of metadata in preserving privacy." In ICMLG2017 5th International Conference on Management Leadership and Governance, p. 269. Academic Conferences and publishing limited, 2017.
WhatsApp messenger is arguably the most popular mobile app available on all smart-phones. Over one billion people worldwide for free messaging, calling, and media sharing use it. In April 2016, WhatsApp switched to a default end-to-end encrypted service. This means that all messages (SMS), phone calls, videos, audios, and any other form of information exchanged cannot be read by any unauthorized entity since WhatsApp. In this paper we analyze the WhatsApp messaging platform and critique its security architecture along with a focus on its privacy preservation mechanisms. We report that the Signal Protocol, which forms the basis of WhatsApp end-to-end encryption, does offer protection against forward secrecy, and MITM to a large extent. Finally, we argue that simply encrypting the end-to-end channel cannot preserve privacy. The metadata can reveal just enough information to show connections between people, their patterns, and personal information. This paper elaborates on the security architecture of WhatsApp and performs an analysis on the various protocols used. This enlightens us on the status quo of the app security and what further measures can be used to fill existing gaps without compromising the usability. We start by describing the following (i) important concepts that need to be understood to properly understand security, (ii) the security architecture, (iii) security evaluation, (iv) followed by a summary of our work. Some of the important concepts that we cover in this paper before evaluating the architecture are - end-to-end encryption (E2EE), signal protocol, and curve25519. The description of the security architecture covers key management, end-to-end encryption in WhatsApp, Authentication Mechanism, Message Exchange, and finally the security evaluation. We then cover importance of metadata and role it plays in conserving privacy with respect to whatsapp.